The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a “tipping point” in the fight against COVID-19, amid surging cases in Europe and the fresh challenge of several mutations of the virus, each more aggressive than the other.
Although new tools against the disease are now available, including several vaccines, and knowledge about the virus has increased, “we remain in the grip of COVID-19”, he said.
“This moment represents a tipping-point in the course of the pandemic – where science, politics, technology and values must form a united front, in order to push back this persistent and elusive virus”, he told journalists.
More lockdowns expected
Last year, more than 26 million cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the WHO European Region, which comprises 53 countries.
Over a quarter of States are seeing very high incidence of the disease and strained health systems.
Currently, more than 230 million people are living in countries under full national lockdown, and more governments are expected to announce lockdowns in the coming week.
Dr. Kluge said the impact of the recent holiday period, characterized by family gatherings and the relaxing of preventive measures such as physical distancing and wearing masks, cannot yet be determined.
Virus mutation ‘alarming’
Regarding the virus mutation, he reported the SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern has been detected in 22 countries in the region.
“This variant is ‘of concern’ as it has increased transmissibility. So far, we understand there is no significant change to the disease this variant produces, meaning the COVID-19 is not more, nor less, severe,” he said.
“It spreads across all age groups, and children do not appear to be at higher risk. It is our assessment that this variant of concern may, over time, replace other circulating lineages – as seen in the United Kingdom, and increasingly in Denmark.”
Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine appears to work against mutation in new coronavirus strains, study finds
A new study provides early evidence that a Covid-19 vaccine might be effective against two new coronavirus strains first identified in South Africa and the UK, despite a concerning mutation.
The two strains share a mutation known as N501Y that scientists worry could allow the virus to evade the immune protection generated by a vaccine.
In research posted online Thursday, scientists found that antibodies from people who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine showed “no reduction in neutralization activity” against a version of the virus that carries the N501Y mutation, which they created in the lab.
In order to do this, researchers tested the virus against blood from 20 people who had received two doses of the vaccine as part of a clinical trial.
The N501Y mutation is located in the coronavirus’ spike protein — the same structure targeted by vaccines. The virus uses this protein to enter the cells it attacks.
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However, the increased transmissibility has sparked concern over the impact on health systems already under stress.
Dr. Kluge urged countries to take action to reduce transmission, and to step-up vigilance to identify new variants. His recommendations include investigating cases of unusually rapid virus transmission and unexpected disease presentation, as well as sharing data.
“This is an alarming situation, which means that for a short period of time we need to do more than we have done and to intensify the public health and social measures to be certain we can flatten the steep vertical line in some countries, which may not have been seen to date”, he said, emphasizing basic measures promoted throughout the pandemic, such as wearing masks, limiting gatherings, and conducting adequate testing and contact tracing
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